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First Black Rockette Jennifer Jones To Be Honored at Harlem Show

 The Rockettes, in 1983, in a scene from the Radio City Music Hall revue
The Rockettes, in 1983, in a scene from the Radio City Music Hall revue "5-6-7-8- Dance!."
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The New York Public Library Digital Collections

HARLEM — Jennifer Jones said she was following her dreams.

But, back in 1988 at Super Bowl XXII’s halftime show when 20-year-old Jones stood in the famed chorus line of the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes, she was not only thrust onto the world stage but into the annals of history.

Jones became the first black woman to ever have the title Rockette.

“I always wanted to be a dancer since I was little,” Jones, now in her late 40s, told DNAinfo New  York. “It was one of my first big jobs.

“I was nervous. I was happy. I was excited and I felt blessed the whole time.”

The Rockettes, formed in 1925 in St. Louis, Mo., before moving to New York City in 1932, had up to that point excluded black women from its lineup so as not to disrupt “color uniformity.”  

 Jennifer Jones dressed in bedazzled outfits from her days as a Rockette.
Jennifer Jones dressed in bedazzled outfits from her days as a Rockette.
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Jennifer Jones

Now, nearly three decades later, Jones’ barrier-breaking feat will be honored in Harlem this Sunday by students from the Harlem School of the Arts Dance in its “Harlem City Music Hall Dance Spectacular.”

“I felt it important to highlight the incredible leadership of Jennifer who broke the color barrier,” said Aubrey Lynch II, the school’s dance director.

“She is an example for all of us, especially our little ladies.” 

Lynch wrote, directed and choreographed the show and will feature The Harlemettes and The Harlem Rockets. 

It's based on Jones’ own story. “Little JJ” and her friends go on an adventure to find Harlem City Music Hall and its legendary “Hall of Wishes,” to make her dream come true. 

“I’m very honored and thrilled about it,” Jones said. “It’s a wonderful accomplishment and I think that I did pave the way.”

Jones, who in 2001 was also one of three black women cast in the Tony Award-winning Broadway show, "42nd Street," also ruminated on other groundbreaking events triumphs in dance and theater.

This past Sunday, for the first time, four black actors snagged Tonys for their work on Broadway. The success of the musical “Hamilton” has started a dialogue on diversity in theater and, last year, renowned ballerina Misty Copeland became the first black principal dancer at the American Ballet Theater.  

“I think on the Broadway aspect, “Hamilton” broke a lot of barriers,” she said. “(But) I feel there's always work to be done.

“It kind of feels like, ‘It’s about time,’ and then it’s like, ‘Why did it take so long?’”

There will be two show times on June 19. The first is from 1 to 2:30 p.m. and then 5 to 6:30 p.m. at the Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College, located at 695 Park Ave. Tickets are $30 in advance from www.hsanyc.org/harlemcitymusichall, or $35 at the door.

Watch the 1988 Super Bowl XXII during the “Something Grand” halftime show below: